Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Chronicles of the Shinozaki Family

The Shinozaki Family was founded in the year 960 by Isawa's Reckoning, during a war between the Crane Clan and the Lion Clan. Shiro Yojin, a fortress of the Daidoji family, had come under siege by the Lion. The valiant Cranes held out for three weeks, running in supplies through secret tunnels. But the Lion general, Matsu Agito, furious that the Daidoji had not fallen, sent scouts to discover their hidden entrances, and sent his men in to clear them out.

Knowing that the Lions had discovered their secret, and they would be overwhelmed that very night, the Crane warriors decided to save as many of their clansmen as they could, and make a last stand to keep the tunnel entrance open so that the women and children could escape. A battered cadre of twelve Crane samurai and twenty-seven peasant warriors, marched through the secret tunnel at the head of a group of frightened refugees, reaching the entrance just as the Lion samurai were about to strike. The Crane heroically pushed back the Lion, creating a diversion while the women and children of Shiro Yojin fled for their lives into the nearby woods. For their valor, the Crane call this battle "The Swordsmen's Last Stand."

When the last Crane samurai fell to the ground, the handful of peasant warriors that remained looked around at the hordes of Lions arriving to capture the castle, and ran into the woods in fear. The Lions, laughing at the cowardice of peasants, marched through the tunnels and into the castle. The Cranes still inside chose not to surrender, however, and leaped from the parapets of the castle to their deaths, the torches they carried making them seem like stars falling from the sky. It is for this reason that the Lion call this battle "The Night of Falling Stars."

One peasant warrior distinguished himself that night, amidst the death and chaos. Ashamed that he had run from battle rather than face his glorious death, he decided to go back to the castle, and slay one last Lion in the name of his Crane lords. Arriving at the tunnels, he was surprised to find that one Crane samurai still lived. His legs badly injured, the Crane was sitting up by leaning on his spear. "Where are you going, peasant warrior?" asked the Crane.

"I am going back to the castle, to face death as I should have," replied the peasant, his voice filled with vengeance.

"No, brave one," said the Crane. "There has been enough death tonight, and one more death will not turn the tide. Go far away from here, and pray that your family is still alive, and that you will be reunited."

"You are right," the peasant admitted, "but I must still atone for my cowardice. I will leave here, but not alone." And then the peasant picked up the samurai, and slung him over his shoulder, armor and all. For three days the peasant carried the samurai, through the forest and over the river, until they reached a friendly city.

Daidoji Tsuka, the samurai, was grateful to the peasant who saved his life, so he asked him his name. "Shino," the peasant answered. From now on, Tsuka declared, he would be known as Eiki, which means "courage." He, and all his family, and all their kin, would become known as the Shinozaki Family, and would serve the Daidoji as honored vassals. The Shinozaki were granted stewardship of the watchtower at Ookami Toshi, along the border with the Crab Clan to the south, and henceforth their duty would be to maintain the signal lantern that would pass warning of attack on to the northern Crane defenses.

But this is not what the Shinozaki Family is known for. That is another story, a story of tragedy, of adventure, and of what it truly means to be a samurai. It is a story that has been repeated countless times, with countless exaggerations and embellishments. Now, I will tell you the true story of the Shinozaki Family.

I know it is the truth, because I was there.